review: Watchmen (2009)1 Comment
I’ve been disgracefully lax of late. I’ve actually seen quite a few new films in the weeks since I reviewed My Bloody Valentine 3D. Well, new to me anyway. In case you’re interested they were… The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon, Confessions of a Shopaholic, The Notebook, The Devil Wears Prada, Bolt 3D, Anvil! The Story of Anvil and Friday the 13th (the latest one). I haven’t written reviews for any of them yet. I do intend to write reviews of some of them at some point… I’m just not sure when. In case you are wondering… The Notebook was the best of them (what can I say, I am a sap!) and Friday the 13th was the worst.
Anyway, this isn’t a review of any of those films… the film I saw last night was Watchmen. For those of you who may not have heard, Watchmen is based on the Alan Moore comic book series of the same name. That series has been much lauded by critics… and indeed by everyone I know who’s read it. Apparently it is quite the seminal work in comic books.
Sounds great but I haven’t read it. I’ve nothing against comic books, I just haven’t read it. When I heard the film was coming out I thought about picking it up, not least because it was staring prettily at me in every book shop I’ve been to in the last few months. In the end I didn’t; I’ve heard that phrase “It’s not as good as the book” said far too many times about films to risk ruining a film that looked like I could really enjoy it.
It would seem that I was right to avoid the book first. Quite a few reviews I have skimmed through mentioned that it’s so caught up in looking like the comic that it misses what the comic was actually saying. Phew! Glad I didn’t have to experience that disappointment. I really liked this film. Thought it was great. I suppose by not reading the comic I can take the themes and the story at face value. This makes for an interesting film, particularly compared to some of the crap I’ve seen recently (see list above. they weren’t all crap though).
So we’ve established that I’m in the pro-Watchmen-the-film camp. That’s not to say that I thought it was a brilliant film. I thought it looked great, that it was interesting story and in parts it was stunning… but it’s a long film and I’d be lying if I said that every one of the 163 minutes was used to its full potential. It’s patchy in parts, especially around the middle. In fact not many films that long avoid patchiness and sagging. It’s also not to say that I think it should have been shorter. One of the things I hate is adaptations that insist on updating and abridging their source material, artifically transplanting in some modern day setting to make it “relevent”. What a load of bollocks. If a story is relevent you don’t to change its setting. Your audience should be able to draw their own parallels. Bah, I’m sick of films that try to spoon feed you.
…Sorry, I got off the point there. I admire that Watchmen stayed true to its source material, even if it was to its alleged detriment. I’d rather watch a long somewhat flawed adaptation than a half assed cutdown version that bears scant resemblance to the original it’s trying to update. Though… I’m not saying all adaptations are bad… I’m just saying that if you’re out there saying that you’re telling a certain story, you should tell the story
I got well off track there. Right. Patchy, yes. Watchmen starts out great, the opening montage was really excellent, we’re quickly brought up to speed with how this alternate timeline has progressed so far. To be honest this really is the best bit of the film. As the film goes on it gets a little muddled in places. It’s as those the scenes don’t entirely flow together. This is probably the problem that those who’ve read the comics are talking about. I didn’t find it that troubling but it did serve to… I suppose hold up the story telling. It’s not that I thought it was disjointed or hard to follow. That’s not the case. It was just kind of like things were being left unsaid but you couldn’t tell what they were.
I guess in a comic or a book you tend to fill in the blanks with your own emotions and interpretations, you read at your own pace according to what you’re reading. With a film you’re in a more receptive state. A film tells you its story on its terms and you process it afterwards. The best films stay with you, thinking about what you’ve experienced. Or maybe I’m just talking a load of shite but it seems to explain the gaps in this film to me. Or maybe Gilliam was right and it really should have been a mini-series. Perhaps 163 mins wasn’t long enough to engage us with the situations and characters in Watchmen and that’s why it felt patchy, they didn’t have enough time to make us invest in the full story. Actually I’m sure Gilliam was right but I don’t think it means that this was a bad film. Just not a brilliant film.
I want to quickly highlight a couple of the more jarring things. That great montage I mentioned does ominously forbode one of the things that Snyder should have stayed away from. While I enjoyed the songs, they were very obvious. A director shouldn’t really get the soundtrack to tell us what’s going on… that’s that screen is for. It was annoying. Also there was a few scenes that could have been dealt with better, less could have been more. I gather they were fairly faithful recreations of scenes in the comic however what probably works as a series of panels in a comic don’t necessarily work when you actually film the whole scene with those reference points.
I haven’t really dwelt on what I liked in particular about the film because I liked in general really. Oh, I particularly liked the nod to Dr. Strangelove, I always like it when people reference Dr. Strangelove. And how can you not when you’re telling this kind of story? Aside from that… the characters, the look, the story, all good… and all from the comic. I guess I’ll like the comic when I read it.
Anyway this was a particularly long ramble so I’ll finish up by saying it’s well worth a look if you haven’t read the comic. If you have I can’t really tell you if it is or not though I would lean to saying you should. If only so that you get to see some beautiful images on screen. Oh, also I heard the end was completely different from the comic so I went and looked it up. Personally I don’t think this new ending is any better or worse than the comic. Just different. I think it worked in the context of the film and I have to say that it is eminently more acceptable to the average cinemagoer. I wouldn’t have minded myself but I think that a lot of people who’ll never read it would have had a problem with the comic book end.
All’s left to say is, that I still would have loved to see Terry Gilliam’s mini-series version. Here’s hoping.
NB: Now that I’ve written my own review I’m reading a few of other reviews out there. I’ve noticed a lot of critics referring to The Dark Knight and how The Dark Knight is vastly superior. Then I went back and noticed that I never wrote a review of it myself. If I had I would have said that it was ok, not great. Actually it would have been a lot like my review of Quantum of Solace. Though I would have given it a 8/10. I really don’t understand the raving about it, I mean it was an entertaining couple of hours and Heath Ledger was outstanding but it doesn’t make you think for more than about 5 minutes after it. It was tiring, obsessively realistic and it languished in bleak, gritty darkness, much like Batman himself. Watchmen didn’t flow as well The Dark Knight and the acting wasn’t of the same caliber but I enjoyed just as much, if not more